Tom’s stroke experience inspired him to start writing a book, which is nearly finished, although he is unsure how the story ends yet. Ironically, in his book he speaks about the fact that the day his brain let him down so badly, was also the day that it had to become more active than ever before.
Tom Glenn does not strike you as the kind of person who accepts anything less than 100% effort from himself. He is a high-achieving salesman, a sports enthusiast who played senior level cricket, as well as several other sports. He has also survived a brain stem stroke, which initially rendered the left side of his body useless. “I’ve never been satisfied unless I’ve competed fairly and done my absolute best,” he says.
“I happened to be awake at 4am on April 2nd, 2012, which probably saved my life,” says Tom. His partner Linley got him to hospital swiftly, where he suffered a second stroke. “I had no feeling on my left side after the second stroke,” he says. “I was lying in bed, feeling worthless, while the nurse explained what was going on. So, I accepted what had happened and that something was wrong. I listened to the doctors and the experts and did as I was told and worked harder than I ever had in my life.”
After 66 days in hospital, he became the first person in 14 months to complete the entire prescribed physiotherapy programme and was able to walk out. “Apparently most people just can’t do it – that wasn’t going to be me,” he says.
Despite such success, by December his left arm was permanently attached to his left side and non-functional. He was offered the opportunity to trial the ableM (or arm skate) system and jumped at the chance. “I’ve never been a computer buff but the system was so simple to use, “ says Tom. I progressed to the ableX fairly quickly. I don’t call the exercises ‘games’, I call them disciplines, because that’s what they are for me. I worked my way from intermediate to extreme – I consider ableX 100-200% beneficial to me. I can now move my arm 30 cm away from the side of my body and I’ve regained function that no one thought was possible. It means I can dress myself, and be far more independent. I can even do a bit of work in the garden!”
When he goes out, he wears his arm in a sling and uses a cane, “mostly to make people aware that they need to be a bit careful with me.”
Tom has nothing but praise for the health professionals he has worked with, but feels there are gaps in the rehabilitation process. “We need to look outside the square when it comes to occupational therapy and physiotherapy. I loved being able to help myself with ableX. Traditional is out. We need to get in tune with today’s world – that’s computers.”
A year ago, an otherwise fit, healthy and happy Colin Weston suffered an idiopathic carotid dissection while walking home with his son after a mountain-bike ride in Queenstown.
After a harrowing 48 hours, his chance of survival looked promising, but his prospect of recovery was deemed poor, at best.
However, Colin had many factors on his side; a healthy, well cared-for body, a strong internal motivation and a rock solid family, led by his wife Fiona.
“From the get-go, I told them not to put him in a box,” she said, “I didn’t make many friends, but I refused to accept the status quo and set about researching how I could help him.” ‘Helping him’ included daily visits to the hospital to massage and stretch his paralysed right side to keep as much mobility as possible and championing his needs. He suffered post-stroke fatigue, which made being in a busy, noisy ward too much for him.
“We never lost him as a person,” says Fiona, “even though he couldn’t speak, I knew he was in there.”
To assist him, she blew up photographs of his family, labeled them and put them up in his room. She also wrote his story and pinned it to the wall behind him, to remind the health professionals he was more than a man lying in a hospital bed – he was a loving family man, a former policeman, a HR consultant, a sportsman, a motivational speaker.
Colin was discharged from hospital after three months, only just walking. He also had his unbreakable spirit. In the process of researching rehabilitation options, Fiona came across speech therapy applications for their iPad and heard about ableX on the news. “I tracked them down and we bought one,” she says.
“It helped amazingly. It was motivational and he could work on it independently. That was invaluable. Initially he could only manage 10 minutes at a time, but he quickly progressed. He was so thrilled when he got the top scores. The beauty of ableX is that you can achieve a lot in a short space of time, in terms of value of time, it is amazing.”
A year on, Colin is walking and his speech is still improving. “His improvement has been exponential since the six month mark,” says Fiona. Still, he is working every day.
“I want it, I want to do it,” says Colin. “There is more to do.”
In the short time available post-stroke or brain trauma many therapists focus on lower limb rehabilitation and train only compensatory strategies for the upper limb. Most clients have untapped potential before rehabilitation time is cut, and they are discharged home to minimal services.
I was impressed with the ableX system during observation with a client. I had never seen a client so engaged in the task for 45 minutes when focusing on upper limb rehabilitation.
A client can be taught to set up themselves and self practise, or have their carer or an aid assist set up. This enables clients to transition from the intensive rehab setting or “station training” in a hospital or private clinic towards a returning home training set up. Everyone has a computer or TV to run the software through.
The major plus for a therapist is that the client is fully interacting with the therapy games by engaging cognitively in the game and functionally in the task. This linking of movement to the cognitive motivational aspect of a screen game can optimise the training effect.
And, with the client engaged in the task the therapist can then use the ableX tools to assist training and show progress using the outcome measures for each session. A reduction in therapists’ one on one time, while still being able to assess a baseline and monitor progress is exciting.
As a clinician the ableX system is an exciting adjunct to what is available at present.
A Sense of WellbeingHelen had a stroke that affected the right side of her body. The stroke immobilised her right hand.